I strive to live my life according to God. I pray and I read the Bible. I reflect on how God’s word impacts my life and I work at following where God leads me. And I fail at it on a regular basis because I am only human. I know I am not perfect because I am only human.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. ~1 Corinthians 11:1-2 (NRSV)
As I said I work to be an imitator of Christ but then there are issues or events that I am not sure how to deal with. I am referring to the current debate swirling around same-sex marriage. As I have said before, I do not honestly know what to think. I do know I am not homophobic. I would imitate Christ but I am not sure what Christ would do. I take that back. I know that Christ would not criticize or spout hateful language towards the LGBT community. I know Jesus would love them and I do the same.
I already admitted that my family and I went to Chick-Fil-a the other day to eat. It wasn’t so much to make a political statement as we passed on on the way back to Nashville and there isn’t one close to our house. We happen to like to eat there. What I was shocked by were the Christians who were celebrating that they “were helping to stamp out homosexuality” and those who were questioning “where the gays are now.” These are people who claim to be Christians and they were not acting in a Christian manner!
I have friends who are homosexual and they are good friends. This does not mean I do not struggle with the issue of same-sex marriage and they know that I do. We are still friends. I am simply honest about it. I tend to straddle the fence on this issue – not because I cannot make up my mind; though I am still working on what I truly believe – but because it lets me hear both sides and see things from both sides. I am a person who reads and studies. I am currently reading a book called Qu(e)erying Evangelism which is about a church that reached out to the LGBT community. Do I think it will change my mind? I don’t know but it is an issue that I struggle with so I want to be better read and educated. I pray over this issue and seek God’s guidance as well. I do not believe the condemnation language that many Christians put out there. God does not hate. There is no discussion on that issue.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ ~Jeremiah 1:5 (NRSV)
I do believe that God has called us all to be prophets of some sort. I am a prophet who is being exceedingly honest when I say I don’t know what to believe right now. I would like to think that I am a voice of moderation or at least one who is the middle listening to both sides to learn and understand. I have probably let myself open to criticism from both sides and so be it. But understand this – I am being open and honest with my beliefs and my struggles.
This morning as I was running, I had to laugh as I thought back over the past seven years of my life. Right before my 30th birthday, my life took an unexpected turn and I found myself floundering and lost. I had no clue what to do or what was next except that God was calling me to ministry. If I fast forward seven years, I can look back and see God’s work every day over the past few years.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. ~Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)
This was the verse that I was reflecting on this morning. It is true. I may not have been able to see God’s work in the moment but as I look back, I see that God was pushing me and leading me where I needed to go. Here’s a few examples.
God lead me to a church and denomination that had just 1 seminary but as a member of that denomination, I could go to seminary at no cost to me. If you didn’t know, I refused to pay for seminary and made a deal with God that I would go to seminary but only if I didn’t have to pay for it. I know you shouldn’t make deals with God but I did and I held up my end of the deal as well.
Before I started seminary, I had a call from a Chaplain recruiter with the US Army. I listened respectfully but didn’t want to join the Army as a chaplain or otherwise. However, God planted the seed and it took root and a few years later, I am heading off to Fort Hood to serve as an active duty chaplain with the US Army.
As I sit here this morning and write this reflection, I can look back and see where God has guided my steps. I went from having my world turned upside down and having no place to turn to realizing I needed to turn to God and listen – and I mean really listen – to God. As I turned to God, things fell into place as I followed God’s path. Now I don’t mean my life has been perfect but my life has been in God’s will which means my worries and cares are truly minor because God is in control. I know God is in control of the next stage as well. I pray that I will be able to see God’s presence in the moment at hand rather than looking back and seeing it.
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ ~Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)
It is interesting when God speaks to us and we realize it immediately. There are times, I believe, that God is speaking to us but we don’t catch it at the time or we are so busy we simply miss it. Later, we look back and we realize that we experienced God’s presence in a real, unique way.
Earlier today, I experienced God speaking to and I realized it while it was happening. As you know, I am waiting for word from the Army and as I was driving today, I had a moment of focusing on me too much and began to ask God to help me because I can’t keep waiting or do this anymore. It was in that moment, and just for a brief moment, I had a strong sense of peace, assurance, calmness, and a phrase came into my mind “just wait”. It was over in an instant but it was exactly what I needed at the moment and it has kept me going ever since.
As I reflect on the experience, I am overwhelmed that God spoke to me as I needed it. I am humbled might be a better way of saying it. Either way, I know that God speaks to me because I speak with God throughout the day as an on-going conversation.
We talk to God in order to constantly build and strengthen our relationship with him, to get to know him better, to learn what he expects of us, what we can expect from him, and to find out how we can best accomplish the things that he wants us to do. We also talk to God in order to seek his advice and help, to show him that we recognize his existence and awesome power, and of course to show him that we have trust and confidence in him.
And talking to God should be the same as if you were talking to your best friend. You should tell him your thoughts, desires, hurts, and problems, as well as giving him your thanks and praise. Talking to God not only tells God that you have knowledge of him but that you also have faith in him. Talking to God also tells him that you have a desire for his presence in your life and that you need him and are dependent on him. It also shows God and that you want to be obedient to him. He wants to hear these things from you. He already knows what they are but he wants you to tell them to him. He wants you to make the effort to talk to him and not to take him for granted.
If you really want to communicate and talk to God, if you want to become close to him, if you want to begin to grow strong spiritually, and if you want to begin a glorious and meaningful relationship with him, then do Talk to God daily, in a normal everyday type of conversation. Remember that God can read your mind and that he is constantly observing your inner most thoughts at all times, so he knows what is going on in your heart and your mind far better than you do. So your conversations with God do not have to be vocal and you can mentally talk to God anytime you want. God gave us little taste of his ability to search the hearts of humans and read their minds back in Jeremiah 17:10 when God said: “I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” So you can easily talk to God in your thoughts, and these conversations can be done anytime or anyplace. They can be done in school, at work, or at any other place, even if the rules of the world are against it.
Of course, talking to God is only part of the conversation. We also hear God when God speaks to us. It is an on-going conversation. It is for this reason that you need to not only talk to God constantly about everything, but you must also listen for God to speak to you. And the best way to listen for God to speak to you is to look to your heart and your mind for his answer. Most people expect God to answer them in some divine way or somehow speak to them verbally, right out of the heavens, but that isn’t the way God operates. God speaks to a persons heart. To their mind. To their sense of moral righteousness and fairness. To their sense of what is right and Godly. When Jesus Christ is dwelling within a person he is communicating constantly with that person’s, heart, conscience, soul, and spirit. His answer may even be in that certain feeling that you have. That unexpected feeling that came out of no where and that shines additional light on the problem. His answer may lie in that sudden pause that you experience. That pause that gets you thinking about a different path to take.
And those methods of communication that God uses are extremely loud and clear. The true child of God can hear God speak just as clearly as if God was standing right along side of them and verbally talking to them. However for most people, especially in the beginning, they need to be quiet and really listen for God’s answer because it is so very easy to block his answer out. You can get busy watching a TV program or cleaning the house and you never really hear his side of the conversation.
After a while God is carrying on a conversation with you even while you are talking to other people; and you are tuned in to God just as much as you are to the other person. When was the last time you and another person were talking and that person used the name of God in vain. Did your mind not hear the Lord cut into that conversation and instantly begin to tell you that the conversation was wrong. That it is wrong to be around someone dragging his Father’s name through the dirt? Or how about the time when you were talking with another person and one of you happened to mention vicious gossip about another person. Didn’t your heart hear God tell you that it wasn’t right to gossip? Did you feel that gentle warning letting you know that you were traveling out of God’s camp and into an area that is owned and ruled by satan. That was God simply talking to you. And it will be one of the most glorious days of your life when you finally realize that you can conduct a constant two way conversation with God 24 hours a day.
I personally have not reached that point yet because I still do get wrapped up in me but I am grateful for the clear moments in my life when I know that God has spoken to me!
Clay that is soft can be made into something useful. If some defect is found in it while it is being made into a useful vessel, it can be pressed back into a lump and remade. But once it is hardened with a defect, like the stubborn people of Judah who refused to repent, the clay jar will be smashed to pieces (see Jeremiah 19:10, 11). It cannot be repaired.
But God desires us to be like the clay in His hand which can be made into something useful. If we yield ourselves to Him without complaining and grumbling, then God can shape us in a way that seems best to Him. But if we resist His plans for us, He will have to crush us so that we will yield. That is why God says, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:6 NIV). He has the right and authority to decide what to do with us. We can either cooperate with Him or resist Him.
The comforting thing that we need to note is that God the Potter has a plan in mind when He sits at the wheel shaping the clay. As children of God we should never be in doubt about the divine plan and purpose of God in our lives. Isn’t it because we think that our plans are better than God’s that we try to live life our own way? It is then that the pot that is being shaped is marred in the Potter’s hand.
But still there is hope. If we repent of our stubbornness and pride and humble ourselves before God, He will still shape us into something useful. His plans for our lives are for our good, to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). That can happen even when the punishment for our disobedience has come like it came to the Israelites who were carried into captivity in Babylon.
So what is your response to this message? Will you recognize the fact that God is the One in control of your life, and not you yourself? That is evident from the fact that the clay cannot shape itself into anything useful; isn’t it? The clay needs the hand of the potter to shape it. And God is the Potter shaping your life.
Imagine a lump of clay wriggling and tossing here and there while it is being shaped! Will it become anything useful? Definitely not. So let us stop our struggles against God’s plan for us. Instead let us become obedient to God so that He will shape us into vessels of honour which will bring God glory.
One final thought. The potter is at work with each individual pot he is making. So know that God is giving you great personal attention because you are the object of His great love and affection. Never forget that truth.
It’s funny. Now that we are nearly 4 weeks past Easter, people seem to be returning to their normal paths and ways. We spent 40 days in the Wilderness as we journeyed to Easter and we sang hymns and praise. Now we are at a crossroads of sort between Easter and “normal” and what do we do?
The Lord proclaims: Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths. Where is the good way? Then walk in it and find a resting place for yourselves. But you said, “We won’t go!” Still, I have appointed watchmen to warn you. But you said, “We won’t listen!” Therefore, pay attention, nations; take notice, assembly, what is ahead of them. Pay attention, earth: I’m bringing disaster upon my people, the fruit of their own devices, because they have ignored my words and they have rejected my teaching. -Jeremiah 6:16-19 (CEB)
The people of Israel have an opportunity to stand where others have stood before, to see where others have followed God before, and find the rest that they need. Their response? We’ll pass. We think we’re doing just fine as it is.
In ancient times there were markers that were placed in intervals along a path to mark it. Usually these markers were only reserved for paths where it was either difficult terrain or the path was unclear. If you had a well-traveled road then the traffic alone would have created a natural outline for the path.
Godliness isn’t a well-traveled path. Sadly there isn’t enough traffic to clearly outline where the path should be. Following Christ should be a well-traveled, well-worn path straight towards the cross. It should be but it’s not. When it comes to following Christ we’re constantly standing at a crossroad. Will we choose to follow the path that godly men and women have followed before us? Or, like the people of Israel, will we allow our pride to pull us away from the leading of God?
As a parent, I am aware that I have eyes on me watching my every move and that I serve as a marker to how to live well. As a pastor and chaplain, I am aware that I have eyes watching my every move and that I serve as a marker to how to live well. As a Christian, I am aware that I have eyes watching my every move… you get the idea. The path is important but not as important as the markers along the way – us. We serve as those markers that guide people (or force people away from) to Jesus.
Stand at the crossroads. Listen for the trumpet. Look for the path that godly, more mature believers have followed. Look for the markers that they have left along the path. If you’re following Christ, leave markers behind for others to follow.
Alright. Some of you who are reading this may find this post has nothing to do with what you think. I am talking about the benefits of waiting for God’s timing. Perhaps a better title would be Lessons from Waiting. If I had things my way, I would happily be serving in the Army as an active duty chaplain right now but I have had to wait for some procedural matters before I can become a chaplain. I will admit that I have been frustrated but then tonight I had one of those moments of revelation that can only come from God.
I have to give a little background first. I spent 3 years pastoring a struggling church that had unique ways of doing things. They believed everything should be run or lead by the pastor and they were not interested in doing more than just Sunday worship. The longer I spent with them, the more disillusioned I became. I was frustrated and tired of working to grow a church in which people didn’t want to have a part. I stubbornly stuck it out until I was burned out and knew it was time to leave. I was grateful when that day came and I was glad to walk away. I wasn’t sure what was next but I was certain (and I vowed) that I would not pastor a church any time soon.
I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. -Jeremiah 29:11 (CEB)
Fast forward a few months and I received a call out of the blue to fill the pulpit at Mt Denson through Easter. I was surprised because I was not actively seeking a church. At this point, I am preaching there through Pentecost and enjoying my time with them. They are a good church that continues to do ministry and care for one another while they search for a permanent pastor.
I share the background with you because if I had it my way, I would have gone into the Army without a backwards glance at churches and I would have been bitter about church ministry (fyi – I had been heading towards the Arm y prior to becoming bitter). Now, I am excited to be part of a church for a time and my faith in church ministry has been renewed. There are good churches out there and I am grateful to this congregation for nurturing me along the way.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. -Proverbs 3:5 (CEB)
So if I had done things my way, I would be happily doing ministry in the Army full time and have no desire to stay connected with home churches. Instead, God is showing me the merits of church ministry and encouraging me to continue to minister while I am waiting. I know the Army will happen but in the meantime, I have this great opportunity to minister to people while they are ministering to me.
The LORD will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry. -Isaiah 58:11 (CEB)
So what are the benefits of waiting? Well first, there is the chance to experience things that might otherwise be missed opportunities. I would never have enjoyed the Mt Denson congregation (and enjoyed the wonderful fellowship meals) if I had things my way. I would have missed out on 17 preaching opportunities. I would have missed out on the chance to mentor elders and to do some teaching of church traditions.
I have had some other great experiences along the way including the chance to do some substitute teaching. I used to teach and I have gone back into a classroom. I appreciate the time I can spend with the students but it also makes me appreciate the direction God is leading me with my new ministry.
We may think we know the answers and know what is right but we do not have the benefit of being God. We cannot see what God sees and we do not know exactly the part God has us playing in the unfolding story of the redemption of creation. I am part of that story but the part I serve is God’s to assign to me not me to tell God.
Father Christopher sighed. “If I understood God, Hook, I would understand everything because God is everything. He is the stars and the sand, the wind and the calm, the sparrow and the sparrowhawk. He knows everything, He knows my fate and He knows your fate, and if I understood all that, what would I be?” “You would be God,” Melisande said. “And that I cannot be,” Father Christopher said, “because we cannot comprehend everything. Only God does that, so beware of a man who says he knows God’s will. He is like a horse that believes it controls its rider.” (Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell)
I cannot comprehend everything and thank God for that! Thank God for waiting and the lessons that come with waiting!
A reading from Jeremiah 18 (CEB):
Jeremiah received the LORD’s word: Go down to the potter’s house, and I’ll give you instructions about what to do there. So I went down to the potter’s house; he was working on the potter’s wheel.But the piece he was making was flawed while still in his hands, so the potter started on another, as seemed best to him. Then the LORD’s word came to me: House of Israel, can’t I deal with you like this potter, declares the LORD? Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine, house of Israel! At any time I may announce that I will dig up, pull down, and destroy a nation or kingdom; but if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I’ll relent and not carry out the harm I intended for it. At the same time, I may announce that I will build and plant a nation or kingdom; but if that nation displeases and disobeys me, then I’ll relent and not carry out the good I intended for it. Now say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem: This is what the LORD says: I am a potter preparing a disaster for you; I’m working out a plan against you. So each one of you, turn from your evil ways; reform your ways and your actions. But they said, “What’s the use! We will follow our own plans and act according to our own willful, evil hearts.”
The nature of creativity involves making a lot of mistakes. The nature of art is knowing which ones to keep. This caveat has always been at the heart of my artistic endeavors. Whether unraveling the mysteries of a beautiful piece of music or rehearsing lines for a play, I keep trying different colors and nuances. Sometimes that “aha” moment comes quickly. But more frequently the detritus of my own rejections is overwhelming, and I have to leave the task before I go stark raving mad.
Once, on a trip to Kentucky during seminary, I met an artist named Rocky. A wizened old man with twinkling eyes and bulbous nose, he could have been the twin of Gandalf. He gave me a great piece of advice to ponder. The word “ART” can be dissected thus: A = artist, R = relationship, T = thing. The stronger the relationship with the artist, the more valuable the thing. The more the artist’s input, the more expression the thing offers.
God, in this scripture, is the potter, the Artist. He does not deal arbitrarily with us, his creations of clay. He can destroy or restore accordingly as we disobey or fulfill his plans. We are fortunate that his relationship to us is merciful, resolute and intimate; hence, our value is immeasurable.
Divine Creator who shaped us with your own hands, make us worthy to be fired in the kiln of your love. Amen
A reading from Jeremiah 13 (CEB):
The LORD proclaimed to me: Go and buy a linen undergarment. Wear it for a while without washing it. So I bought a linen undergarment, as the LORD told me, and I put it on. The LORD spoke to me again: Take the undergarment that you are wearing and go at once to the Euphrates and put it under a rock. So I went and buried it at the Euphrates, as the LORD instructed. After a long time, the LORD said to me: Return to the Euphrates and dig up the undergarment that I commanded you to bury there. So I went to the Euphrates and I dug up the linen undergarment from the place I had buried it. But it was ruined and good for nothing. Then the LORD’s word came to me: The LORD proclaims: In the same way I will ruin the brazen pride of Judah and Jerusalem! Instead of listening to me, this wicked people follow their own willful hearts and pursue other gods, worshipping and serving them. They will become like this linen garment—good for nothing! Just as a linen undergarment clings to the body, so I created the people of Israel and Judah to cling to me, declares the LORD, to be my people for my honor, praise, and grandeur. But they wouldn’t obey.
“Don’t wash your dirty linen in public,” my mother would say. Don’t tell your faults and failures. Don’t reveal problems or concerns in your family, business or country. Keep quiet.
Through Jeremiah, the Lord calls people to account: “You became dirty useless linen. You stubbornly went your own way, forsaking God’s values.” God says, “I created you to cling, true to me.”
Jeremiah acts out the message. Sadly, he warns of consequences, national crisis, Babylon’s takeover, Judean leaders and people deported to exile. Jeremiah does not keep quiet. He airs dirty linen in public.
We are in distressing economic and global times. Personal and public faults, failures and needs plague us. God’s Word and Jeremiah’s actions speak to us.
My mother said, “Keep quiet.” But if I don’t reveal my difficulties, others cannot care and encourage me. If we keep silent, seeing hurts or wrongs, nothing changes. It gets worse.
We need washing! At the Last Supper Jesus washed Peter’s feet in caring love. Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.” Peter replied, “Lord, wash my feet, my hands and my head!” We seek God’s grace to come clean with God and one another.
Gracious God, wash and renew us. Make us fresh and clean, that we may live according to your will, to your glory, sharing your everlasting love. Amen
A reading from Jeremiah 1 (CEB):
The LORD’s word came to me: “Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations.” “Ah, LORD God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.” The LORD responded, “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’ Where I send you, you must go; what I tell you, you must say. Don’t be afraid of them, because I’m with you to rescue you,” declares the LORD. Then the LORD stretched out his hand, touched my mouth, and said to me, “I’m putting my words in your mouth. This very day I appoint you over nations and empires, to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.”
When God appointed Jeremiah a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah’s response was, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But God told Jeremiah not to be afraid, and said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” Jeremiah needed a strong faith to be able to surrender to God’s will and let God speak through him. This is a valuable faith lesson for us.
Have you ever prayed and prayed for something to happen? We learn very quickly that God answers prayers in his own time and in his own way. God has a larger vision than we do. He sees and understands things that we don’t, just as a parent sees and understands things that a child can’t. A parent has experience and wisdom to help guide and teach a child. Once the child’s eyes are opened through knowledge and experiences, a whole new world opens up to her.
When my daughter was little, she loved the kiddy rides at the amusement park. Then she grew tall enough to go on the “big” rides. Once she experienced the “big” rides, there was no turning back. From then on, kiddy rides didn’t satisfy her. She only wanted the “big rides. Her new experience changed how she thought and felt.
God accepts us just as we are, but I don’t think that’s all he wants from us. He wants us to learn and grow in our faith. We are encouraged to take a step of faith and follow his lead. At first, we take small steps. Then, as he guides us, we move to bigger steps and bigger experiences.
There are times we may say, “Lord God, I don’t know what to say, I am young in my faith.” If we pray and truly open our eyes and ears to what God is telling us, then we will be able to step out in faith. Like Jeremiah, we too will be able to surrender to God’s will and let God work and speak through us. As we learn and grow in faith, we will be better able to serve God. These experiences will open up a whole new world to us.
Dear Heavenly Father, open our eyes and ears to what you would have us do. Teach us your will and help us to grow in faith, so we may live to your glory!
A reading from Jeremiah 24 (CEB):
After Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar had deported Judah’s King Jeconiah, King Jehoiakim’s son, and the Judean officials, as well as the craftsmen and metalworkers from Jerusalem to Babylon, the LORD showed me two baskets of figs set in front of the LORD’s temple. One basket was filled with fresh and ripe figs; the other basket was filled with rotten figs—too rotten to eat. And the LORD asked me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
I replied: “Figs! Some good ones and others very bad—so bad that they can’t be eaten.”
Then the LORD said to me: The LORD, the God of Israel, proclaims: Just as with these good figs, I will treat kindly the Judean exiles that I have sent from this place to Babylon. I regard them as good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not pull them down; I will plant them and not dig them up. I will give them a heart to know me, for I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. And just like the rotten figs that are so bad that they can’t be eaten, the LORD says, I will do to Judah’s King Zedekiah and his officials, as well as the remaining few in Jerusalem and those who are living in Egypt. I will make them an object of horror and evil to all the kingdoms of the earth. Wherever I scatter them, they will be disgraced and insulted, mocked and cursed. I will send the sword, famine, and disease against them until they vanish from the fertile land that I gave to their ancestors.
When Judah was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC, many of the best and brightest Israelites were taken forcibly from their own land and relocated to Babylon (Iraq) where they were put to work in service of the king. Many others were left at home in Judah tending the flocks and the crops. These two groups – the captives and those left behind – are represented by the baskets of good and bad figs in Jeremiah’s story. How strange that the “figs so bad they can’t be eaten” represent the seemingly fortunate Israelites who escaped captivity, while the good figs represent those who suffered in Babylon.
Bad things do happen to good people. Diseases afflict the good as well as the wicked among us. Relationships disintegrate, jobs disappear, savings vaporize, people starve to death in Africa and freeze to death in the American Midwest – all this without respect for the virtue of those involved. There are moments of emotional exile in every life – moments of suffering and insecurity, moments when the world makes no sense and hope seems far away. “My God, my God,” we cry, “why have you forsaken me?”
God never abandoned the captives in Babylon, and neither will God abandon us during our personal exile experiences. We may feel alone, separated from God and from one another. Sometimes God may seem more like a silent partner in our lives than an active participant. But read again the active role God claims: “I will build them up… I will give them a heart… I will be their God.”
God is active here among us. There is hope beyond exile.
Gracious God, give me a new heart to know that you are Lord. Even when I can’t see you or hear you, let me feel your presence beside me. Amen
Here is a glimpse into my struggles of faith. I find it amusing that people feel that because I graduated from seminary and I am an ordained minister that I have it all together. I have no problems or struggles but I do have my moments. Here is a sample of one.
Today, I went running – partly because I haven’t run for a few days and partly because I needed to do some thinking. There are days when the path before me is clear and I am following it. Then there are days when the path becomes muddy and I am not sure of the true path. Today is one of those days.
I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. -Jeremiah 29:11 (CEB)
For nearly two years, I have been working towards a goal of becoming an Army Chaplain. This was a path that was set before me a number of years ago but it was one that I did not follow right away. Once I accepted this was my calling, I have pursued it faithfully and with full attention. There have been some hiccups along the way but the path has remained mainly clear. Admittedly joining the Army wasn’t on my list of ministries but it is clear that God wants me here. With that being said, I accepted that I was going to be a Chaplain in the Army Reserves and looking forward to great ministry. I was prepared.
Then another hiccup in the road. Just about a month ago, I had a meeting with my endorsing body (all chaplains are endorsed by their denomination or a representative of their denomination – mine is the PCCMP) for my final endorsement. I was interviewed by a committee and prepared to receive my endorsement for the Reserves. I was asked to leave the room while they deliberated. Upon entering the room, I was greeted with the statement, “We are not going to endorse you for the Army Reserves.” My heart nearly stopped beating before I heard, “We are going to endorse you for Active Duty.”
What’s the difference? There is a big difference but the process started to roll almost immediately as entering (or seeking to enter) Active Duty is a different process. It was not what I was seeking (I am fine with it) but it was clear this is where God wanted me to go. The process just started moving fast and I followed along with it as I followed God’s lead. All would be fine. I decided to give it all to God and let it be what it would be.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. -Proverbs 3:5-6 (CEB)
Then, I received an email requesting my resume for a full-time church position with benefits and the like. It would be perfect for a Chaplain in the Army Reserves but is that the path I am supposed to be following? I immediately thought it would be a good thing to keep this church in mind just in case the active duty opportunity does not work out but is that what I am supposed to be doing?
The LORD proclaims: Cursed are those who trust in mere humans, who depend on human strength and turn their hearts from the LORD. They will be like a desert shrub that doesn’t know when relief comes. They will live in the parched places of the wilderness, in a barren land where no one survives. Happy are those who trust in the LORD, who rely on the LORD. They will be like trees planted by the streams, whose roots reach down to the water. They won’t fear drought when it comes; their leaves will remain green. They won’t be stressed in the time of drought or fail to bear fruit. -Jeremiah 17:5-8 (CEB)
If I truly trust God, I will completely look to Him and let things happen as they should. I will not make back-up plans just in case. There will be no just in case. The world makes alternate plans in case things don’t work out but I feel in this case, I need to completely trust God (I should always but especially right now) and let things in his hands. I am following his path and while it may seem crazy to give up something that seems surer for something that is not so sure, I trust God. It is a stretch for me to let go of this because I need to be in control and perhaps that is why my path is so muddy right now. I need to let go and give up the control I need to have. I honestly have no idea how this is going to come out but then I don’t need to know how it is going to come out.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help…The LORD will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry. -Isaiah 58:9a, 11 (CEB)
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and my quandary. I wanted to share to show I am not perfect but also because I felt I needed to share what was on my heart. I can’t keep it inside and I needed to let it go. This seemed like a great place to do that.
“So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me:”O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand…” Jeremiah 18:3-6
As Christians, we belong to Christ. He is the master over our lives, and He determines our steps. He is constantly working to break us, mold us and change us to bear a closer resemblance to His image. Often this process is painful and can be confusing. A friend shared this poem with me the other day and I was encouraged to remember that in every change, God has a purpose and a plan. He is working through every trial. He is faithful through every test. Praise God for God’s faithfulness, even when God’s care comes through pruning and correction.
When God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How he hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about!
I don’t usually focus so much attention on one post but it seems warranted. It seems God really spoke to me the other day. I should never be surprised but somehow I always am when God speaks to me.
Over the past 48 hours, I have had a bout of the doubt which I am prone to have from time to time. I am really my own worst enemy and I quickly sink in the tendency to want to doubt and give up. I lose my faith – at least a little bit – and I begin to question God and God’s plan.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. –Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)
All of that being said, the last 48 hours, I keep going back to the feeling of heaven I had on Monday evening. I still cannot explain it but I know it was to comfort me and strengthen me for whatever may come my way. As the verse from Jeremiah says, God knows what is going on and I just need to trust God and keep doing what I am doing – serving and trusting God.
I still haven’t found the words to explain the feeling I had on Monday evening. What I know now from reflecting on it, is that it was a strong feeling of comfort, hope, and peace. It was a sense that no matter what, God is there and there is nothing I can do to change that. It was/is a sense that things are going to be fine and I need to stop worrying and doubting and simply trust God. My biggest weakness is that I am a doubter and a worrier. I have improved but I still worry and doubt and then I go into this sense of doom and gloom. Perhaps I lack vision, I don’t know but I do know it is a weakness and one that Satan can exploit. It is something I struggle with.
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. –Matthew 6:25-34
The more I reflect on this glimpse of heaven, the more I realize that God is telling me to stop worrying and trust God. Things are going to be just fine and things are going to work out according to God’s plan. Easy said but not so easily followed. I pray for the strength to keep on keeping on and stop worrying about things. For those that know me really well, you know this is something I will struggle with and I hope you can help me see this through to the end.
You know with all the preparation for Christmas at church and having to go and get advent stuff, I can’t help but reflect on the coming advent season. This morning, I encountered the scripture below and I paused on reflect on it and consider its lessons. I have shared my thoughts below.
“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.’ –Jeremiah 33:14-16
God speaks from trees? Jeremiah uses the lesson of a tree branch to preach an early Advent sermon. He tells of a future time when God’s promise of salvation and safety to God’s people will come to pass. A “righteous Branch” will come from the house of David, he says, “to execute justice and righteousness in the land.” The New Testament church saw this promised Branch to be none other than Jesus Christ.
It was Jesus who later likened the kingdom of God to a tree in whose branches birds flee for safety. And another time Jesus invites his disciples to look at the fig tree and other trees to see in the changing of the seasons the signs of death and resurrection happening right before their eyes.
A Hasidic story tells of a rabbi’s son who used to wander in the woods. The rabbi asked his son, “I wonder why each day you walk in the woods?” The boy replied, “I go there to find God.” “That’s very good, son. But, don’t you know that God is the same everywhere?” “Yes,” the boy answered, “but I’m not.”
And so it is with us. We need tangible signs of God’s presence. When we enter the emotional, spiritual and physical winters of our lives, no matter the reason, let us eagerly anticipate that day when a new branch will burst forth from the leafless icicled branch we have become? In this Advent season, may all trees be for us Christ-mas trees, signs of hope, worthy of our decorating and celebrating – Christ, the Righteous Branch, has come into our lives, Christ will come again.
Every morning I get up. Sometimes I have a plan for my day. Sometimes I’ve nothing scheduled. It is the days I have nothing planned that I often find God prompting me to do specific things. I wonder if that is because I am more open to His voice; I have no preconceived ideas. I don’t get annoyed when my schedule is interrupted, or circumstances cause me to change a course of action. Instead, I’m relaxed and resting in His Spirit. My days go so much better on those days. And for some reason I seem to get far more accomplished.
“Thus says the Lord, Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the eternal paths, where the good, old way is; then walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16b
What is “the good, old way”? Could it be the commandments of the Lord? What does the Lord require of us, exactly? “To fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your mind, heart and with your entire being.”
I think if we follow that directive, our lives will fill with joy, love and contentment. I think our conscience would be clear and we’d have no guilt; the accuser could not penetrate the peace of God in our hearts. And as we walked in all His ways, our souls would be in constant rest. Yet, in our own power, we know we cannot be perfect in all His ways. We need Jesus. And Jesus is our peace. We can stand in the righteousness He has given us, then walk on in rest.
Stand. Look. Ask. Walk. Then rest. Not such a hard thing when you look at it His way.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. –Romans 8:28-30